Sony NEX 5R review – intro
Sony’s first foray into web-connected, app-compatible cameras, the NEX 5R takes a different approach to other Internet-savvy snappers like the Samsung Galaxy Camera and Nikon Coolpix S800c, both of which use Android. Sony has gone down the proprietary route, so apps have to be downloaded from Sony’s website rather than Google Play. And unlike its rivals, the NEX 5R is a compact system camera supporting a whole bevy of E-mount lenses.
Sony NEX 5R review – build quality
Like other NEX models, the NEX 5R is a very well put-together camera. The body is sturdier and more compact than most CSCs, with a pleasingly chunky grip on the right side providing adequate purchase for your mitt. There’s a similarly chunky dial on the top, giving you another way of adjusting settings without having to go into the menus.
Sony NEX 5R review – user-friendliness
The NEX 5R uses a similar UI to other NEX cameras, with the mode dial being on-screen rather than physical (we’re not a fan of that, to be honest), but its touchscreen does add some new functionality. First, you can use touch shutter to select a focus point and take a shot with your fingertip; secondly, you can tap on-screen buttons instead of having to use the cursor control, which speeds things up, particularly when you’re tapping in passwords for Wi-Fi hotspots and Facebook.
Sony NEX 5R review – screen
The touchscreen isn’t the most responsive, though, so don’t expect smartphone-like levels of accuracy and usability – firm presses are required. Aside from that the 3-inch screen is a gem, with its 920,000-odd pixels providing a retina-slicingly sharp image backed up by strong contrast and brightness. It also tilts up and down, making it easier to compose shots without having the NEX-5R right in front of your face.
Sony NEX 5R review – photo and video quality
Setting aside the apps for a moment, it’s important to remember that the NEX 5R is first and foremost a mid-range compact system camera, boasting similar specs to the Wi-Fi-less NEX 5N we reviewed back in January. Photo quality from the 16.1MP Exmor sensor is superb, and the large ISO range (which goes up to 25,600) and effective noise reduction makes low light shooting a breeze. You also get a nice set of special modes including Auto HDR and Sweep Panorama.
Video is similarly stellar. There are options to shoot in AVCHD or MP4, in full HD, and the quality looks superb when viewed back on a big ol’ HDTV. You also have a nice degree of manual control over video settings, which will appeal to enthusiastic Scorcese wannabes.
Sony NEX 5R review – apps
Finally, we should touch on the thing that sets the NEX 5R apart: its apps. Sony only offers a handful through its webstore at present, and many have to be paid for. The selection isn’t astounding, but there’s an uploader, a remote viewer (that lets you use your smartphone or tablet as a viewfinder), a set of filters and a retoucher among the free offerings.
We also tried out the US$9.99 Timelapse app which, though pricey, comes with eight modes including Cloudy Sky and Night Sky and is really easy to alter intervals, number of shots and the self-timer before you begin. As uploading is taken care of through another app though, it's not clear how to share photos from these apps.
We think the Android route, with its third-party apps, is a lot more compelling than having a smattering of Sony-built apps to play around with, but Sony has a history of doing things its own way. As it stands, we’re not sure the apps here really add a huge amount to the camera – but the future could bring more exciting prospects.
It's the same situation for sharing – at the moment it's limited to PlayMemories and Facebook but Sony promises more to come.
Sony NEX 5R review – verdict
The Sony NEX 5R is another fantastic CSC from Sony’s stable, and we can’t grumble about the build, design, screen and image quality, all of which are top notch. The interface isn’t the most user-friendly, however (like all NEX cameras), while the app compatibility feels a little too “walled garden” to be truly exciting; it’s best viewed as a bonus rather than a killer app.